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Review: The Dacia Duster is a no-nonsense SUV with some proper off-road capabilities

We test drive the updated Dacia Duster SUV.

Image: Dave Humphreys

THE DACIA DUSTER is billed as an SUV for the same price as a supermini.

In Ireland it is available in Alternative (€16,690), Signature (€18,690), Prestige (€19,890) and SE Summit (€21,390) specification grades.

The only engine option is a 109hp 1.5-litre dCi diesel unit mated to either a six-speed manual or EDC auto gearbox with a front-wheel or all-wheel drive setup.

The engine is fairly economical too with a quoted combined cycle fuel consumption of 4.4 litres or 4.7 litres/100km depending on trim and CO2 levels of 115g/km (€200p.a.) on two-wheel drive versions and 123g/km (€270p.a.) on 4×4 versions.

So, as you can see, a new Duster is relatively cheap to buy and cheap to run – but is it good value or is it a case of you get what you pay for?

Source: Dave Humphreys

Dacia is the Romanian subsidiary of Renault and the Duster has been in production since 2010. It is powered by an engine co-developed by Nissan and Renault which has been well proven in millions of models.

The car sits on a co-developed platform that also underpins the Juke, Micra, Note and Captur and Clio; the EDC dual-clutch gearbox is the same one you’ll find in the Megane and Kadjar; the switchgear is also from various Renaults and the all-wheel drive system is derived from a Nissan technology.

So what you are getting with a Duster is tried and tested oily bits wrapped in a cheaper package and that is what allows Renault to offer it at a competitive price.

Source: Dave Humphreys

The Duster does actually come with decent levels of kits as standard including 16-inch wheels, roof bars, electronic front windows, Bluetooth, AUX and USB connections and a DAB/FM/AM radio with steering wheel mounted controls.

It has an ECO driving mode and stop/start technology and standard safety features include ABS and Emergency Brake Assist, ESC (Electronic Stability Control) with ASR (Traction Control) and ISOFIX anchor points. That’s a fair lot of frills for a no-frills car.

Source: Dave Humphreys

OK, the quality of materials in the cabin isn’t the best – there are lots of hard scratchy plastics, although these are quite durable and easy to clean which is great if you have kids. The cabin is what I would call utilitarian. Having said that, my SE Summit test car did have some nice gloss black features, leather trim and coloured air vents and stitching that made the cabin feel a bit more premium.

Source: Dave Humphreys

The cabin itself is spacious and the rear bench seat is wide so it should be quite comfortable back there for three adults. The boot is a good shape and can hold 475 to 1,636 litres (that’s more than the Qashqai’s 430-1,585 litres).

Out on the road, the visibility is great with a decent raised driving position but whilst the seats are nice and wide they don’t offer much in the way of support. The suspension set-up leans on the soft side which makes it quite forgiving over smaller lumps and bumps, however, on rougher surfaces and larger bumps the car doesn’t feel as composed.

The soft ride means the car wallows through corners and there is noticeable body lean but the grip is decent enough. The steering is also a bit vague, but it is nicely weighted.

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Source: Dave Humphreys

The engine is punchy with plenty of in-gear shove but it is gruff and noisy when revved, and the cabin doesn’t have enough sound deadening to block much of the noise out.

The Duster is quite rugged and has a max braked trailer towing weight of 1,500kg and the all-wheel drive models have a lockable central diff giving it some proper off-road credentials.

And with this, my criticisms of the handling can be overlooked as the Duster is a great value car especially when you consider that you can get into an all-wheel drive version from €20,690. The Duster can’t be touched in terms of how much you get for your money.

Source: Dave Humphreys

In terms of rivals, entry-level Renault Captur starts at €19,790 and is more sophisticated than the Duster but is smaller and less practical. The entry-level Suzuki Vitara is €21,995 which is a more polished product and beats the Duster on space and just about matches the Duster on equipment level – however, you have to fork out €29,245 for an all-wheel drive model.

You can get into a Peugeot 2008 from €19,400 but to match the top of the range Dacia’s drivetrain you’d have to go for the entry-level Active 1.6-litre 120hp diesel model which costs from €24,230 and it doesn’t have four-wheel drive.

Overall, whilst the Dacia is cheap it does represent good value for money especially if you are after the more rugged and capable all-wheel drive version.

Source: Dave Humphreys

READ: Get a grip: 10 cars with all-wheel drive for under €30k >

READ: The Renault Koleos is for buyers with taste looking for space >

About the author:

Melanie May  / https://www.melaniemay.com

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